Pepe Palacios: "The Honduras Coup was our Stonewall"

"The Coup was Our Stonewall"

The LGBT Movement in Honduras LGBT Hondurans March in Captial on 2012 International Day Against Homophobia

LGBT Hondurans march in Tegucigalpa on the 2012 International Day Against Homophobia


On June 28, 2009, the democratically elected President of Honduras was forcibly removed from office by the Honduran military in the middle of the night.  He was flown out of the country still in his pajamas.  The next day, massive non-violent street protests broke out across Honduras.  Among the protesters were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Hondurans.  Two transgender women were the first victims of the coup.  They were murdered as they were returning home from street protests in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras.

Why were LGBT Hondurans in the street protesting against the coup?  Why were LGBT activists being killed? 

Pepe Palacios, an openly gay founder the Diversity Movement in Resistance (MDR), recently visited 7 cities in the USA to explain why.  He came to bring awareness to the LGBT community in the USA of the unprecedented violence against LGBT Hondurans since the coup.  Pepe visited Washington DC to update two openly gay members of Congress, co-chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus, about the continuing targeted killings of LGBT Honduras - now numbering 90 murders since the coup.  Finally, he came to describe a vision of the future of the newly visible LGBT movement in Honduras, and its partnership with hundreds of social movements to bring equality, inclusion and justice for all in to Honduras.  This report is a summation of his message during his three-week visit in January-February 2013 to Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Cleveland, New York, and Washington DC.


The Coup & Stonewall

Before the coup, the LGBT community was largely invisible in Honduras.  Limited organizing of LGBT Hondurans occurred through outreach initiatives of HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment programs.  Little by little, these LGBT-led organizations began exploring and discussing other concerns of the LGBT community. 

Then came the coup.  President Zelaya had been elected as a conservative from the traditional wealthy Honduran oligarchy.  However as president, Zelaya shifted course, opening dialogue with a broad coalition of grassroots social movements including campesino farmers, trade unionists, Afro-Hondurans, indigenous - and LGBT leaders for the first time ever.

These consultations led to a proposal for the "cuarta urna" (the initiative of the 4th ballot box) calling for a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new, more fully inclusive governing Constitution. The coup, organized by the wealthy oligarchic leaders of Honduras, took place to prevent the June 28 national popular vote on the "cuarta urna" proposal and to reverse economic and social reforms President Zelaya was implementing.  Simultaneously, the duly elected president of Honduras was overthrown in what President Obama termed an "illegal" coup, and the possibility of a popular vote to create a more inclusive constitution though a constitutional assembly was aborted.

"The coup is when we LGBT Hondurans said: Enough!" said Palacios.  When the Honduran public learned of the coup the next morning, thousands of people from the social movements seeking social and economic inclusion through constitutional reform demonstrated in the streets each and every day for over 5 months.  Among them were highly visible contingents of LGBT Hondurans waving rainbow flags, with transgendered women being the most tenacious participants.  The 3-day Stonewall Rebellion prompted by a police raid of the Stonewall gay bar in New York began on June 28, 1989.  Pepe Palacios reminds the world that that the coup d'état in Honduras, which mobilized LGBT Hondurans into the streets for the first time to struggle for their rights, was exactly 40 years to the day after the Stonewall rebellion.   "The Coup was our Stonewall."  


Walter Trochez on December 4, 2009 in his bloodied t-shirt after being abducted, beaten and threatend

Walter Trochez on December 4, 2009 in his bloodied t-shirt after being abducted, beaten and threatend with death. 

The Murder of LGBT Leader Walter Trochez

Walter Trochez was a highly regarded and much loved leader of the LGBT community in Honduras.  At 25-years-old, he was the General Coordinator for the Sexual Diversity Advocacy Group and a co-founder of the Committee of Auditors, an organization that worked to end violence and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.  Respected internationally for the effectiveness of his leadership, Trochez was also an animating leader in the coup resistance movement.  In a November 2009 open letter entitled "Increase in hate crimes and homophobia towards LGTB as a result of the civic-religious-military coup in Honduras," Trochez openly denounced the growing murders of LGBT activists (letter attached below).  

On December 4, 2009, Trochez was abducted by four masked men in civilian clothes who beat him and ordered him to give up the names and addresses of political activists. According to Amnesty International they told him "Even if you give us the information we're going to kill you, we have orders to kill you."  Trochez was able to escape at that time, and immediately reported the abduction, assault and threats to human rights authorities.

On December 13, 2009, Walter Trochez was shot in the chest by a drive-by gunman and taken to hospital where he later died.  Walter's murder mobilized LGBT Hondurans to still greater visibility.  Every month on the anniversary of Walter Trochez' murder, LGBT activists led by Walter's former colleagues gather on the 13th day of each month at the Public Prosecutors office (Ministerio Publico) for a public protest calling for the identification, prosecution and incarceration of Walters' assassins (February 13, 2013 press release attached below).


The Murder of LGBT Candidate Erick Martinez Avila

Erick Martinez Avila was another tenacious, valued LGBT leader.  Both an activist and journalist, Erick hosted a weekly radio program dealing with human sexuality issues.  He mobilized LGBT participation in the post-coup resistance movement.  In April 2012, the 32-year-old Martinez Avila was selected by an LGBT assembly convened by MDR to run for Congress in Honduras after the newly created LIBRE party. 

Two weeks later on May 7, 2012, Erick's body was found on the side of a road near Tegucigalpa, showing signs of having been strangled to death.  Palacios and other human rights defenders believe his killing was meant to send an unmistakable message to the LGBT community.


U.S. Congress:  The Polis Letter

The murder of Erick Martinez Avila echoed into the halls of U.S. Congress.  His killing prompted openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a co-chair of the 100-member Congressional Equality Caucus, to deliver a letter to then Secretary of State Clinton on June 26, 2012 seeking accountability from the Honduran government for the murders of 70 LGBT Hondurans, highlighting the cases of Walter Trochez and Erick Martinez Avila. 

Pepe Palacios Updates U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-C), Co-Chair for the Congressional Equality Caucus

Pepe Palacios updates U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-C), Co-Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, regarding 24 LGBT murders in 2012. 

The Polis letter was signed by 84 members of Congress (letter attached below).

On January 15, 2013, Pepe Palacios met with Rep. Polis, and openly gay Rep. David Cicilline, a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus now serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to thank them for the June 2012 letter, but advise them that another 20 LGBT Hondurans have been murdered since Rep. Polis delivered his letter less than a year ago.



The FBI and LGBT Murders in Honduras

In early 2012, the U.S. State Department funded the creation of a "Special Victims Unit" (SVU) to help the Honduran government investigate and prosecuted human rights crimes.  According to Palacios, the SVU was established to investigate the murders of LGBT Hondurans, journalists, and lawyers.  For reasons unknown, only LGBT murders are under SVU investigation.  FBI agents are currently embedded in the SVU to advise and train Honduran investigators and prosecutors to move the cases forward. 

The SVU is under the authority of the Public Prosecutor's office.  As such, the SVU is not funded by controversial U.S. aid to the Honduras police, which is notoriously corrupt and responsible for much of the killing.  Palacios noted that two dozen LGBT cases were under active investigation, resulting in incarceration for perpetrators in two cases - including that of Erick Martinez Avila.  However, the case of Martinez Avila remains open since the believed intellectual authors of the crime are yet to be identified.

Pepe Palacios & Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in Cloak Room of Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room

Pepe Palacios meets with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in chambers of the Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room

Palacios affirmed the role of the FBI role in the Special Victims Unit to Rep. Polis and Rep. Cicilline, and later to officials at the State Department, with whom he met separately the same day.  Palacios clearly noted that but for the FBI-resourced SVU, none of the LGBT cases would have moved forward given the lack of political will by the Honduran government.

Palacios encouraged the State Department to expand the scope of Special Victims Unit funding to include the cases of journalists, lawyers and "emblematic cases" among high profile resistance leaders - including human rights defenders, teachers, trade unionists, and Afro-Indigenous leaders.

Palacios requested that U.S. aid to the police and military be rechanneled to more productive use, saying that funds, training and equipment for police and military from the United States is used to repress the Honduran people.


"We Will  Not Turn Back"

Palacios continues to highlight the stark facts:  In the 10 years previous to the coup, 20 LGBT Hondurans are known to have been murdered.  Since the coup, in only 3 ½ years, a staggering 90 LGBT Hondurans have been murdered.  When asked why the number has risen so sharply, Palacios believes it is due to LGBT visibility in the post-coup resistance movement.  "We are highly visible in resistance street marches," he said.  LGBT Hondurans protest weekly in front of the Public Prosecutors office seeking and end to the impunity for LGBT murders.  They issue press releases.  They are now running for political office.  They are targeted with political assassination as are other sectors of the resistance movement.  They are more visible as target for hate crimes.  Transgender women remain the majority of victims.  

However, despite the continuing danger, Palacios asserts that a historic and irreversible transition was ignited by the coup: "We will not turn back."  LGBT national and international visibility will expand as the diverse Honduran social movements continue to organize for the "re-foundation of Honduras" under a new, fully inclusive national Constitution which guarantees the rights of all.